Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a hard game to talk about, primarily because it’s called god dang “Theatrhythm.” For my own part, I’ve decided to simply pronounce it as if its two individual components were discrete—”theatre rhythm”—but it’s also hard to talk about because any sane person is likely to wholly dismiss the game after a few seconds of critical analysis. Fortunately (and I guess, to an extent, unfortunately), they’re wrong, because Theatrhythm is a worthwhile, if nebulous, title.
At first, it’s easy to be swept up by the fact that Theatrhythm plays to arguably the most significant part of the Final Fantasy series, mainlining nostalgia straight to the part of your brain that houses every single childhood memory of summer’s spent indoors with the likes of Cecil and Yuna: the music. Theatrhythm is a rhythm game that completely and methodically holds your hand through the melodies and harmonies of the storied RPG franchise, hitting every note you would expect along the way (well, almost, as it does skip the direct sequels, side games, and FFXIV altogether, but that is slightly remedied by the DLC). From FFVII‘s Aerith’s Theme to FFIV‘s Theme of Love, you’re likely to get a little misty-eyed playing this game.
Luckily, Theatrhythm does not sit back on these nostalgia-laden haunches and instead provides a fairly challenging and entirely interesting screen tapping rhythm mechanic that actually progresses well from introducing you to the game to showing the mechanical intricacies of these Final Fantasy tunes. You’ll be watching the top screen for indications on whether to tap, hold, slide, or swipe on the bottom screen in time with the music, each action translating to either a direct attack or the build up to a spell or summon. You see, you’re essentially playing a Final Fantasy game through rhythmic tapping.
You’ll first form a party with four members from the swath of characters available from each of the 13 games represented, finally providing you with the opportunity to combine Cloud and Squall to see who is able to elicit more pity with their ever saddening doe eyes. Each party member has what you would expect from an RPG, such as HP, MP, different stats, and sets of abilities that are triggered by the types of notes you pound out.
And by making those stats and abilities matter, Theatrhythm makes building a varied party key. The four types of music sequences (Field music where you are traversing land; Battle music where you are actually fighting enemies; Event music where you replay particularly key cinematic moments like FFVI‘s opera; and Theme music for opening and closing segments) are more compatible with certain characters. By having a character with Cure like FFVI‘s Terra, you can save yourself from certain doom on higher difficulties, while FFVIII‘s Squall can dole out buffs and debuffs during battle stages to make enemies more manageable.
And for each battle, your party gains XP and levels up, which—from what I can tell, anyways‐might be the only way to beat some of the more challenging parts of the game. You can choose to play through the Series mode, which allows you to tap-battle your way through each game of the series over the course of 15 or so minutes, but the game really opens up once you start playing the Chaos Shrine mode.
In this mode, unknown field and battle songs not available in the main game combine to form a pair of challenging tap sequences known as Dark Notes. New music and darkly twisted versions of old songs are presented to you for the biggest challenge Theatrhythm can offer you, but the rewards are also the best as you’ll level up crazy fast, get awesome item drops from the battle bosses, and rack up an insane amount of rhythmia (the in-game currency) for more songs and characters (yay Vivi!).
It seems to me that Theatrhythm does a lot of things right. It doesn’t take itself too seriously (each battle ends with a totally nonsensical, seemingly random combination of bits of character quotes), looks super charming, and has a seriously engaging rhythm mechanic. I honestly wasn’t expecting to like Theatrhythm as much as I do, but I really can’t wait to go pick it up again and tap out “One-Winged Angel” one more time. Skepticism is a healthy thing to have, but cynicism doesn’t help anyone. Theatrhythm more than proves that there is still some life in the flailing series.
And that music can still stir the soul.